Washboard Situation

We live on a dirt road. It might also be called a gravel road, or an unpaved road. I am not a fan of referring to it as “unpaved” since that implies that the norm is paved, when there are more miles of gravel roads in the world than paved roads. In Vermont, there are 1,500 more miles of dirt roads than paved roads.

A gravel road has its charms. Generally fewer people drive on them. Paved roads are faster and usually more direct, so they take the bulk of traffic. People tend to drive more slowly on dirt roads. And they look better, if you ask me, since they feel like they are cut from the earth, even they are often solidly engineered. Nature could take them back, if we let it, or so it seems. A paved road just seems laid on top of the landscape–foreign and immovable.

There are, of course, disadvantages. Our road is open, so it bakes in the sun. Many dirt roads turn to mud in the spring, but ours dries out pretty quickly. Mud season is short on our road. But that sun drying things out? That means dust. When summer comes and we haven’t had rain for several days, passing cars raise clouds of dust. And the wind blows it our way. Our porch can get covered in dust. When we eat outside at the porch table, we need to wipe that thing down or expect grit in our teeth.

We are in the season of dust right now, but it isn’t too bad lately. That is because of another problem–washboarding. We have the worst washboarding we have seen on our road since we have lived in this house. The phenomenon gets its name because it looks like an old fashioned washboard. Wheels bouncing on the road cause ripples to form in the dirt surface, and these get enlarged with more traffic. This means a really bumpy drive. It shakes the dash and rattles the windows. Not good for your car.

However, this washboard situation means that everyone driving past drives a little more slowly. With slower driving comes less dust. So when we leave the house and drive down the road, I am none too happy about it, but when other people drive down our road I am pleased that they kick up less dust.

The town grades our road a few times each year, and they have not done it in a while now, so we are due. I am surprised they have not graded it yet, given just how bad the road has gotten, but I know there are plenty of other projects in town. Grading our road is a priority for me. It may not be for the town as a whole.

One possible delay is the installation this summer of fiber optic cable along our road. It has been buried, like the power cables, rather than strung, so they have been digging. That digging ended a month ago, but maybe they have more to do? It may not make sense to grade the road if more digging is going to happen. Really, I have no idea.

It will be great to have high speed internet, finally. But I sure would like a smoother drive and to prevent some car damage. In this case, I will take some dust. It is easier to wipe down the table than to replace auto parts. Costs less, too.

Not Very Nice

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Earlier this week I left my car in a parking lot and came back to find this. I had finished early, working at a school, and decided to take some time to go birding out on the bike path. This meant that I had to leave things in my car once I drove there. This included my laptop and wallet. I didn’t want to take those with me. These valuables were hidden in the back, not at all visible, the car locked. There were other people in and out of the lot. It was a bright sunny day.

I didn’t see any rare birds, or anything unusual. I did encounter over 500 geese near the shoreline, which was a little crazy to hear. That many geese make a bit of a racket. It was a beautiful day. I felt restored and ready to get back to work once I drove out of there. I did not, however, drive out of there for a while.

My initial reaction was “You’re kidding me. Seriously?” In my eternal optimism I briefly hoped that this was straight up vandalism and my goods would still be there. They were not. The question I asked out loud, “Who does this?” was not answered. Someone was desperate enough to leave the scene without offering me answers.

So I got to call 911 again. I reached a New York responder, got connected to a Vermont responder, then to the local police. I gave my information and waited for someone to show up. I wasn’t freaked out or frightened or even angry. I just felt tired. I knew it would take a good chunk of time to deal with this, many phone calls to start with, then running around to deal with replacing stuff and fixing the busted window and trying to keep this from getting worse. So I started calling.

The laptop wasn’t mine but my employer’s so I had to call them to get things remotely disabled. I had to call my insurance company to file a claim. They asked me the value of things taken and, in my haste to provide an answer, undervalued pretty much everything ($15 to replace iPhone headphones? Um, no). I called a couple of banks to cancel some cards as well. And my spouse to let her know I would not be home for a while.

The police officer was friendly and helpful. He said there had been several other similar crimes around town and they even discovered the perpetrator–went to his house and found a pile of stolen goods, although he was not there and still remains missing. I assumed I would not see my own things again. They no longer belonged to me.

I spent a long time on the phone, wanting to take care of as much as possible before I headed home. My phone battery limited my task list. Once it hit 3% I put the phone in airplane mode and made the breezy ride home. My charger, of course, was with my laptop.

The next two days I cancelled what I had planned (which was a big ouch considering the time sensitivity of much of the work I had to do) and dealt. I ordered new credit cards and debit cards. I made the trip to the DMV to get a new driver’s license. I got new ear buds and a phone charger. I replaced my laptop bag and various items from it. I worked with my IT folks to get a new laptop, name badge and parking permit. I dropped off my car, got a rental for the day, and picked up my car once it had new glass. I was efficient and effective and only got frustrated once, so it all got done.

Then the optimist in me rises to the surface and sees a few things that worked out well here:

1. I just got my driver’s license renewed a few weeks ago. The photo was pretty much terrible, for the first time ever. Really. I got a new one with a new photo. That one is much better.

2. I got to drive a Jeep Compass for a day. I can’t say I especially liked the car (can you say poor visibility?), but it was fun to drive something new.

3. It happened when the weather was ideal all around. Imagine having no rear car window in the rain, or snow, or bitter cold.

4. I got, yet again, a new perspective on my life. I had to deal with this hassle, but it was about stuff, mostly. Stuff can be replaced and we move on. I am not the one who is so desperate that I need to break into someone’s car and steal things that will mostly be garbage (that laptop was instantly a hunk of metal and plastic–no getting into that) and to create havoc in someone’s else’s life. More than anything, I feel sorry for that person.

So here is to new experiences. Sometimes they are a drag, no doubt, but I always learn something from them. And to the person who felt the need to do this: I forgive you. I hope you can get your life together soon.


I added air to my tires this afternoon. The front ones were low enough to furrow my brow with concern. I need to do some driving tomorrow and I did not want to do it on low tires. Way low. Can you say blow out potential?  Not what I’m talking about.

The thing is, I added air just a short while ago, maybe two weeks. I’m not talking a tad air loss here but lots of air loss. Danger danger.  So I blasted in some free air from the Mobil station and off I went. I noticed a difference right away, as I always do when I add air to my tires. Adding air gives better gas mileage yet I add air only rarely. I should do it every couple of weeks but that doesn’t happen. Too lazy. Me, not the tires.

I plan to get new tires this week. These have been good to me. They have lasted a long time. They have taken me far. But the time has come to play it safe. I hate to ditch the old ones. They create some serious waste. But safety first, eh? Ain’t that America?

What I need to do is pay more attention to my tire pressure. I know I need to pay attention especially depending on the time of year. In summer, I have plenty of pressure. In winter, maybe not so much. Cold air, you know? Add air, rotate, balance. I need to do all that stuff more than I do, likely. Today was a good start. It didn’t take all that long. Once these new tires are in place, I pledge to keep my tire pressure up to snuff.

Firm tires are where it’s at. I mean, who wants flabby tires?

Garage and Windshield Wipers

Our thermometer read zero when we rose this morning.  It read 32 when I went to bed.  That’s a drop.  I walked my daughter out to the bus and we were glad to have snow pants and neck gaitors.  A breeze blew.  The snow squeaked.  It wasn’t a day for the bus to be late.  It was early.

Soon after that I headed to work, sans snowpants.  Well, I did in fact toss them in the car.  You never know.  My legs were cold just walking to the garage.  And this is why we have a garage.  The thermometer in the car (a feature worth having let me tell you) read 20 degrees.  Let me say that again, 20 degrees! That is a twenty degree difference between the outside air temperature and the unheated garage temperature.  That makes having a garage a huge bonus.

And here’s another thing:  no scraping.  When the air gets icy and I’ve got to leave early, that’s when I forget that I need to scrape the frost.  But with a garage, no problemo dude.  No frost to scrape.  It is warmer, I don’t have to scrape, I can get in the car without getting wet in the rain.  It is awesome.

When we bought this house we weren’t looking for a garage.  We knew it would be a good thing to have, but baby I’m so sold on it now.  How cold I ever go back?  Hopefully I won’t have to.

My only problem now is my sucky windshield wipers.  I paid extra, for the first time ever, to have someone else install a set for me the last time I brought the car in for service.  I figured I just wanted to get it done, so I didn’t do it myself.  Way to go Economy Boy.  They sucked from the beginning, and they still suck.  No matter what I have done to adjust them, they streak like nuts.  And on an icy day like this, with salt and crap getting kicked up, I need some wipers that do the job.

Even my awesome garage won’t help with that problem.  I just need to suck it up and get another pair.  I guess it is better to pay a few extra bucks than to crack up because I can’t see what is coming at me.  That would really make some poor financial sense.

Driving Around Here

When I was in high school I drove to school.  Not at first, of course.  My parents, in their ever-giving way as parents, drove me to school.  I couldn’t take the bus.  There wasn’t one.  So they drove me and eventually, at least some of the time, I drove myself.  It was a typical commute for someone in Connecticut, less than an hour.  Traffic was always a concern.

Today I drove to a school at which I work a few days each month.  I drove 28 miles each way.  It took about 40 minutes to get there this morning.  I encountered some traffic but nothing worth noting, at least for me.  I stopped at some traffic lights, went the speed limit on the Interstate, and generally kept moving the whole way.  No big deal.

I do encounter delays some days.  If there happens to be an accident in the right place at the right time, traffic can get snarled.  One morning I was an hour or so late getting to this same school and I had to go a long way around to get back.  My drive home took hours, but that was unusual.

The volume of traffic is way higher than when I first moved to this area.  Driving always seemed to be easy, even at the busiest times on the busiest roads.   My wife points this out regularly.  Having grown up here, she has seen the change.  Even since the days we first began to spend time together in her adult years, there are many more cars on the road.  Her typical questions:  “Where did all these people come from?  And where do they all live?”

The thing is, this is nothing.  I remember listening to traffic reports on my high school commute.  Would traffic on the bridge over the Connecticut River on Interstate 91 be slow?  Should we take the other route?  Should we leave a little earlier?  Could we expect to be on time?  Accidents, or at least breakdowns, were common.  There were a lot of people and a lot of cars, and we didn’t even travel through Hartford.  That was busy.

But the roads are getting busy around here.  When I drive north past Burlington during peak commuting time, cars line the highway southbound waiting to exit toward Vermont’s largest city.  It gets crowded.  We have pretty crappy public transportation, partly because of the still somewhat rural nature of the surrounding communities.  The backed up roads seem a good reason to invest in public transportation.  Rail lines already exist in many areas in northwest Vermont, but there is only one commuter train to speak of.

I don’t mind the driving, knowing that it could be a lot worse.  It did used to be much smoother to get around in a car, but I won’t complain.  If it gets so bad that I feel I need to complain, then I need to make sure I am taking action to make a difference.  I don’t know that I can swing commuting on a bicycle 28 miles and still help the kids get to school in the morning, but if I get it together I could travel to other places by bike.  I am working at home tomorrow, so that helps a little.

Really I would rather take the train, or even the bus, but until that happens I will add to the general melee.  I will be one of those about whom people who grew up here wonder.  “Where do all these people come from?” they might ask.  “And why is that guy smiling in all this traffic?”